Major snowstorm setting sights on Plains, Midwest this weekend

Tractor-trailer accident on a snowy Nebraska highway.

The final weekend of 2019 will go out with a bang, of sorts, as a major winter storm keeps trucking across the U.S. The storm slammed the mountains of southern California on Christmas Day and yesterday, Dec. 26, with some spots getting two to three feet of snowfall. Some lanes of I-5 were still closed as of this morning, Dec. 27, in the high elevations just northwest of Los Angeles. From today through the weekend, the storm will track through the Southwest, followed by the Great Plains and Midwest. Shippers, carriers and drivers should expect moderate to major disruptions on the roads, rails and runways in these regions.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Friday, December 27, 2019, 10 a.m. EST

The recent southern California snowstorm is now setting up over the Four Corners states. Moderate to heavy snowfall will last through tomorrow, Dec. 28, in the high elevations of northern and eastern Arizona, northern and western New Mexico, southeastern Utah and southern Colorado.

The highest totals of 12 inches or more are likely to occur in New Mexico and Colorado. Truckers shouldn’t have too many interstate travel issues. However, some delays are possible on I-40 through Flagstaff in central Arizona and I-10 through southeastern Arizona; these areas should receive less than six inches of snowfall. However, the I-25 corridor from northeastern New Mexico to the Colorado border could see more than six inches.

Watch out for gusty winds, blowing/drifting snow and reduced visibility at times.

This weekend, Dec. 28 and 29

By early tomorrow, snowfall rates and winds will intensify. Freezing rain and heavy snowfall will spread across the Great Plains and upper Midwest, from eastern Colorado to Minnesota. Within the target zone outlined on the FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events map below, total snow accumulations will range from four to 12 inches, with localized amounts possibly exceeding 15 inches. The highest snow accumulations are likely to straddle the North Dakota-South Dakota border, but totals in northern Nebraska, eastern North Dakota and portions of Minnesota won’t be anything to sneeze at. Some areas could get covered with one- to two-tenths of ice build up. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued Winter Storm Warnings and Winter Weather Advisories across the area.

Winds will be a major problem. Gusts of 40 to 50 mph will result in blowing snow and occasional blizzard conditions. Road closures are likely in some areas due to the hazardous driving environment.

Major interstates at risk within the storm’s predicted path include I-80, I-76, I-90, I-94 and I-29. Impacts will include prolonged delays or road closures possibly lasting 12 hours or more. Scattered power outages are likely due to the strong winds; downed trees and utility lines due to ice and wind could lead to additional road closures. Some notable cities in the impact zone include, but are not limited to North Platte, Pierre, Sioux Falls, Fargo, Grand Forks and Duluth.

SONAR Critical Events: Friday, December 27, 2019, 10 a.m. EST. Impending weekend winter storm.

Besides issues on the roads, this storm will cause difficulty in loading/unloading freight at intermodal ramps and at the Port of Duluth, Minnesota. Flight delays/cancellations may impact what low amount of air cargo is handled at Hector International Airport (ICAO code: KFAR) in Fargo, North Dakota. Significant disruptions of local and regional supply chains and businesses may last into early next week. These assets at risk are color coded in SONAR Critical Events.

On the warm side of the storm, thunderstorms and heavy rainfall will drench parts of the middle and lower Mississippi Valley, as well as the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. A few storms may produce flash flooding or severe winds.

Other weather today, Dec. 27

Scattered areas of snow, sleet and freezing rain are moving through upstate New York and interior New England. Watch out for icy conditions from the Adirondacks to the northern Berkshires in western Massachusetts, as well as portions of the Green and White mountains. This storm will fade by sundown or shortly thereafter.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!